While chat bots and artificial intelligence may steal the headlines, the real future of local government communications lies in working strategically, using insight and data and having the support of politicians and senior officers to build trust, engage communities and deliver impact. David Holdstock, director of communications at the Local Government Association, explains how the LGA, LGCommunications, Solace and the PRCA have developed a new resource to help support councils approach communications more strategically.
by David Holdstock
Earlier this week, at the LGA’s annual conference, we launched #FutureComms – a resource which sets out what good, strategic communications looks like with best practice examples.
Developed in partnership with LGCommunications, Solace and the PRCA, it highlights the role strategic communications has to play in tackling some of the big challenges facing local government – managing demand, delivering growth and investment, transforming businesses, working commercially and building trust to forge new relationships with communities and stakeholders. At the heart of all of these challenges is the need to inform, engage, advise, think creatively, prioritise and evaluate.
Many councils are already doing much of this but our communications support work in councils has found that some councils are still not investing in strategic communications. That investment isn’t about investing money – it’s about investing a commitment to strategic communications.
In the best organisations, the council’s political and managerial leadership place communications at the heart of their strategic thinking, helping to deliver corporate priorities.
There’s no question that perceptions of what communications can deliver is an important factor. For many organisations, the communications function is still seen as the mouthpiece of the organisation, broadcasting content, issuing press releases, or, if you’re lucky, a tweet and a fun gif. Repositioning communications as a strategic service takes time, resource and courage, as well as an ability to clearly articulate and evidence how it can be used for bigger, more far-reaching strategic goals.
But if this work is the foundation of what we as professional communicators do, why are so many organisations still not investing in a strategic communications presence? And why do so many professional communicators continue to fight for a seat at the top table and so few succeed in influencing their organisation’s corporate objectives?
At least part of the answer is in our own hands. The organisations that have managed to achieve this are the ones where communicators have articulated this, developing a clear strategy, setting out clear objectives and providing clear evidence of impact. This in turn is then fully supported by both corporate and political leaders.
Through #FutureComms we have been able to highlight some of the best practice from the sector’s leading chief executives and politicians who truly have embraced strategic communications.
Some of the most influential communications professionals from both local government and the private sector have also contributed, providing us with a comprehensive checklist of what successful strategic communications should look like in 2018 and beyond.
This new resource has come out of more than 50 communications peer reviews and health checks that the LGA has conducted and more than 500 recommendations made to councils. Our research tells us that we all face these challenges, regardless of council type, size or priorities.
Our important collaboration with LGcommunications, Solace and the PRCA will strengthen the support we can offer to councils to help improve strategic communications.
We all have our part to play – communicators, political leaders and chief executives – to make sure communications is delivered strategically, adds value and proves its worth.
Take a look at #FutureComms here.
David Holdstock is director of communications at the Local Government Association
image via Tullio Saba